How to Disinfect Toys (Because, Um, They’re Kinda Gross)

For as much as you thought you’d be the kind of parent who only sanctions chic, wooden toys that match your interior design palette, reality is a little different, as in, bright, loud and ugly playthings everywhere. So you lost that battle. But you don’t have to lose the battle over germs. That’s why we tapped Melissa Maker from the wildly popular Clean My Space for her top tips on how to disinfect toys and keep the playroom just a little less icky. 

Cleaning Versus Disinfecting

There’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting, Maker tells us. “If you’re cleaning a toy, you’re just wiping it down either with plain water or water and soap.” Maker’s preferred method for cleaning toys is to wet a microfiber cloth and simply wipe the item. This will remove a good amount of germs, dirt and other residue. Disinfecting, on the other hand, means using an EPA-registered disinfectant to kill germs. (More on that below.) 

When to Clean Toys

Some experts recommend cleaning toys about once a month, but Maker says not to worry about sticking to a regular schedule. “Generally speaking, if your kids are healthy, I would say clean toys when they look dirty or when they feel gross,” she tells us. The reason being that a lot of the germs in your kids’ playroom are actually pretty harmless or even good for them by helping to build their immune systems. So don’t fret about the dog licking your child’s Paw Patrol van or a Lego-themed sippy cup falling onto the floor. “If they have friends over, you can be mindful about cleaning the toys afterward if you want to do that,” she adds. 

When to Disinfect Toys

You’ll want to bring out the big guns when you suspect that bacteria or viruses may be present. Say, for example, your child has been sick or a bug is going around school. Here’s a pro tip: If your kids are sick, give them a handful of toys to play with while they’re not feeling well. “That way you don’t have to clean everything in the toy room, which would take you at least 45 minutes.” Instead, just have ten toys or so that you know your kids like and let them play with those while they’re ill. 

But there’s no need to go crazy, says Maker. “Let’s say your kid had the flu a week ago—it’s not like you need to go and do a massive cleanup now, since that virus won’t survive that long.” (Per the CDC, the flu virus can live up to 48 hours on surfaces, while COVID lives up to 72 hours). Disinfect anything that’s being actively touched or actively used, she advises.  

If vomit or excrement is on a toy, then it’s a good idea to disinfect it. But because disinfection doesn’t remove any surface impurities, you should always clean before disinfecting.

How to Disinfect Toys

How to disinfect plastic toys

What you need:

Step 1. Spray toy with disinfectant. Lightly spray the toy with an EPA-registered disinfectant. If you don’t have any handy, a run-in with good ole soap and water will do your kid’s miniature T-Rex a world of good. And though soap and water won’t get rid of everything, says Maker, it’ll get rid of a lot. If you don’t want to use dish soap, castile soap will work just as well.

Step 2. Let it sit. To ensure that the spray or soap really gets into every fold and crevice of the toy and blasts bacteria, let it sit for three to five minutes. This step is also a double whammy since it’ll help lift any dried-up stains as well.

Step 3. Rinse. Because the toy will probably end up in your kids’ mouths (no matter how hard you try to fight it) it’s important you completely rinse it to get rid of any residual disinfectant. Run it under warm water for a minute or two before letting it dry.

P.S. If washing plastic toys by hand sounds like too much of a hassle, you can stick them in the top rack of the dishwasher as long as they don’t contain batteries.

How to disinfect wood toys

What you need:

  • Water
  • Vinegar or castile soap
  • Spray bottle
  • Microfiber cloth

Step 1: Determine the type of toy you have. Unlike plastic toys that you can easily distinguish between battery-powered or otherwise, wood toys need a sharper eye. If the toy is varnished, then you can follow the steps below.  Otherwise, gently wipe down the surface with a Lysol wipe, followed by a damp microfiber cloth to remove any dirt or grease.

Step 2. Spray disinfectant. A solution of one part vinegar, four parts water will do the trick, our friends at Kid Kraft tell us.

Step 3: Let it air dry. After wiping the solution off, allow the toy to sit and air dry. A nice bask in the sun may also help more kill germs, Mother Mag states.

Please Note: There is one big no-no when it comes to cleaning wood toys and that is soaking. Because wood is very porous, letting it soak may alter the shape of the toy. Plus, if it doesn’t dry completely, more germs and bacteria may fester and that defeats the purpose.  

How to disinfect plush toys

What you need:

  • Pillowcase
  • Laundry detergent
  • Blow dryer

Step 1: Determine the type of toy you have. Battery-operated toys have different care needs than non-battery-operated ones. Placing a toy with a battery pack or any type of noise maker in the washing machine may cause it to malfunction. For those toys, spot clean as needed and follow the care label when a full scrub down is due.

Step 2. Wash the toy. For plush toys with no batteries, your best bet for disinfecting is to run them through the washing machine. Place it in a pillowcase, then knot the top in order to protect the fabric. Run the machine on a gentle cycle, use warm water and set to a slow spin. “If the toy isn’t machine washable but you have a steam cleaner, you can use that to loosen the fibers and then use a cloth for a follow-up wipe,” Maker suggests.

Step 3. Dry the toy. You have three options when it comes to drying a plush toy. First, you can try placing Hugsy the bedtime penguin pal in the dryer after washing—keep the toy in the pillowcase and run the machine on a low-heat setting. You can also blow-dry the toy on a low heat setting and turn the heat up towards the end if you want to fluff out the hair a bit. Lastly—and this will only work if you have the time—let the toy air dry by hanging it on a rack or similar appliance. Just make sure the room has enough ventilation to avoid that damp smell and of course, festering of germs and bacteria.

What About Bath Toys?

The biggest concern with bath toys is soap scum, so it’s important to let toys dry after use. Hang a mesh bag with suction cups and place the toys in there to dry. “If they do need a cleaning, either soaking in or wiping with vinegar is going to be really great in this situation because vinegar cuts soap scum,” says Maker. When it comes to squirt toys, they’re hard to clean properly, so once they start looking grimy, it’s best to just toss them out, she advises. 

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